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Woodland Edge

Green business is good business

For most people, the recent report from the Natural Capital Committee, the watchdog set up by Government to report on the condition of our natural assets, will not be top of their reading list.  It didn’t quite make front page news when it came out back in January, but the report does have some important things to say to the business community.

Its first message is a familiar story; that parts of our natural environment are in decline.  But the second message is perhaps more surprising, describing how the declines are having a damaging impact on the national economy.  For example, urban air quality is the top environmental risk factor for premature deaths in Europe, reducing productivity and costing the economy at least £20 billion per year.  The report then goes on to say that the damage can be put right with a targeted investment plan, and that this would open up a range of economic opportunities, good for business and good for the environment too.  In short, the report asserts that green business is good business.

I have been thinking about this in relation to The National Forest.  Here we have been able to demonstrate to environmentalists that our pioneering approach is the way forward.  Twenty years ago this was cutting edge stuff; a big, bold project working at a landscape scale, using the environment to lead social and economic regeneration.  So much so that now the environmental world has caught up and this approach is considered mainstream. But what we haven’t done is take the business community on a similar journey, to demonstrate that we can also be an exemplary business development project, investing in our natural capital while improving the local economy.    

Of course, many of our leading businesses are already pioneering this approach.  They understand the value of the Forest to their business brand, the importance of an attractive environment to bring skilled people to the area, the savings from reducing costly and harmful emissions, and the benefits of demonstrating their social responsibility to investors, customers and the community. But if we are to ensure that The National Forest is as well known for sustainable business as it is for its environmental credentials we have to go further. The National Forest deserves the best green housing with the best green infrastructure, and the best green attractions with the best green businesses around them. 

So how do we make that happen?  Well, firstly we have to create a clear vision so all businesses want to celebrate their relationship with the Forest – who is going to invest in something they don’t understand?  Secondly, we have to create the right environment to attract green businesses and for them to grow.  That means demonstrating the potential market and opportunity.  Thirdly, we have to create incentives for all businesses to minimise their impact and give something back to the Forest. It sounds so simple doesn’t it; the right kind of businesses moving into the Forest to create a truly sustainable economy, a growth in those businesses linked directly to stewardship of the Forest and all businesses reducing their footprint.  This could generate a hub of green innovation around fuel or food production, land management, recreation and sustainable tourism, and a raft of new initiatives supporting training, carbon offsetting or outdoor education.       

Over the coming months and years we will be working with our public and private partners to test out this approach, showcasing business leaders, and challenging what is possible. There is such an opportunity in The National Forest that I am convinced we can do things differently here. The Natural Capital Committee’s report calls for 250,000 hectares of new woodland planting to generate societal benefits in excess of £500 million per year. That’s a benefit of £2,000 per hectare per year.   With the total area of The National Forest around 50,000 hectares we won’t be able to achieve all this, but we can certainly play our part in helping to create a greener economy. 


John Everitt

28 May 2015